Final Fantasy VII (Review)

FF7Logo

Boy, am I ever starting to feel old. It’s hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since Final Fantasy VII was released. What’s less hard to believe is that the game has been given a brand new release on Steam so many years later because, hey, Final Fantasy games stand the test of time perhaps greater than almost any other franchise out there. So, to celebrate the return of Final Fantasy VII on Steam, I’m going to review the game for those who haven’t played the game. Yes, there are still people in this day and age who haven’t played this massive game! Continue reading

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Einhander (Retro Review)

“One of the absolute best games to ever grace the original Playstation.”

If, in 1997, I was told by someone that the makers of the Final Fantasy series would soon be releasing what would undoubtedly the best space shooter on the Playstation, I would’ve called them crazy. Well, in 1998, Squaresoft had done just that. Einhander is the best space shooter on the Playstation and perhaps even one of the best ever.

Einhander is a fantastic game that, in 1998, had it all. It looked awesome, had a stunning soundtrack, and had amazing gameplay. Twelve years later, and Einhander still plays and sounds like a gift from the heavens despite looking dated, though not at all ugly.

In Einhander, the player takes control of a ship belonging to the Moon’s military forces and must blast through several unforgivingly tough levels. Despite being an amazing game to play even by today’s standards, Einhander is not for the weak of heart. Don’t let the fact that it was made by Squaresoft, creators of the easiest RPGs ever, fool you. Einhander is tough as nails and doesn’t hold your hand at all.

As a space shooter, Einhander plays like many classic favourites such as Gradius or R-Type, but shakes the formula up a bit. The player is able to mount weapons onto their ship that drop off of enemies, and the position of mounting can be changed by the player at will. By default, weapons normally attach to the bottom of the ship. However, with the press of a button, the mounted weapon will swap to the top of the ship. This changes the firing arc of the weapon entirely. If the player’s ship has two mountings, then they can hold two weapons at once, which can also be fired simultaneously. It’s worth noting that no weapons that are picked up replace the default rapid fire gun that the ship comes with, with pretty much means that if you have two weapons at any given time, you can obliterate anything in your path by using all three weapons. Now that’s pretty badass.

Most enemies are pretty easy to get past. Lowly enemy ships and turrets are destoyed with ease, but the difficulty spikes dramatically upon encountering a mid-boss or level end boss. All bosses, regardless of whether or not they’re at the end of the level, are remorseless and will do everything they can possibly think of to destroy you. Most bosses have clever attacks that will catch you off-guard, while other bosses just rely on the old “spray the entire screen with dozens of bullets” routine. It’s worth noting that bosses can change their attack patterns as well if you destroy certain parts of them. That is one of the joys of Einhander, being able to destroy bosses in whatever way you wish since they are mostly all fully destructable. Few games offered this in 1998, so it was welcomed by many.

The graphics in Einhander were absolutely stunning in 1998, but today they are understandably outdated. Visually the game has stood the test of time fairly well. While most aspects of the game really don’t look impressive at all anymore, nothing stands out as being unpleasant to look at. As one of the original Playstation’s better looking games, Einhander simply looks “passable” in this day and age.

The music and sound effects have managed better than the game’s graphics and are just as good now as they were twelve years ago. Einhander’s soundtrack is mostly made up of “moody techno” sort of music tracks, which is really cool. For the most part, music takes a backseat and stays fairly quiet and in the background until players encounter a boss. It is at this time that the boss theme, which sounds freaking awesome, kicks in.

Click here to listen to Einhander’s boss theme.

Sound effects fit the mood just as well. Explosions sound gritty but muffled, and sounds given off by the heavy bodies of the game’s bosses are heavy and metallic. Most of the weapons sound pretty generic, but are anything but disappointing.

Overall Einhander is a truly awesome game that, despite not being a smash hit when it was first released in North America, has become one of the original Playstation’s most popular games over the past decade. If you’re a fan of space shooters, you should definitely get your hands on a copy of this game to enjoy on your PS3 or emulator.

Final Score

9/10

Spider: The Video Game (Retro Review)

“Creepy, crawly, and one of the Playstation’s best platformers.”

Every now and then, I like to take a trip back in time for a review. Usually I do this because I don’t have anything new(ish) to review. This is sort of the case at the moment, so what better time to review the very first Playstation game that I ever bought?

Spider was an obscure platformer that I don’t think many people played, since I never heard another person talk about it before. Also when searching “Spider on the Playstation” or another similar search phrase, all of my search results involve Spider-Man games. Despite the fact that both have to deal with a human character who has a nasty experience with a spider, the similarities end there.

In Spider, you play as the genius scientist Dr. Kelly. Or, well, you play as a spider inhabited by Dr. Kelly. You see, the good doctor invents technology that lets him control other bodies. A lab spider is his test subject, and his technology works without a hitch. Unfortunately for our intellectually gifted hero, the antagonistic MicroTech organization is watching. MicroTech’s president, a brain in a jar (don’t ask), wants the technology. So, Jar Brain does what anybody else would do. He transfers Kelly’s consciousness into the spider and takes off with the technology. The game then begins as Dr. Kelly, inside of the spider’s body, must venture through laboratories, city sidewalks, and even museums in an effort to get his body and technology back.

You might be wondering how a mere spider would be able to stand up against an evil corporation, right? Well, the answer to that is simple. Spider plays a lot like Contra, and the power-ups are no different. There are never any truly valid explanations as to how a spider can fire missiles or use flamethrowers, but wouldn’t it ruin the fun? I’m arachnophobic, but I’m all for a game featuring a spider with lasers and missiles and so much more!

The levels are all fully 3D, but the player is stuck on a 2D field for most of the game. As I mentioned, the gameplay is quite similar to Contra. There are tons of enemies that fire countless projectiles at you, and later levels are so full of hazards and obstacles that it can be a little overwhelming. Some levels required lots of raw skill to get through, and it was really challenging and enjoyable to experience. It’s also worth noting that since you play as a spider, you can pretty much crawl up, over, and under just about everything you see which adds a very enjoyable sense of exploration to the game.

I don’t have a physical copy of the game anymore, so I can’t comment on boss battles. I only remember the final boss in the game, which was a pretty underwhelming fight. The whole general atmosphere of Spider wasn’t very exciting. The game’s soundtrack was very calm and subdued, and the sound effects were never particularly exciting. Most aspects of the game were unfortunately fairly average, except for the stellar gameplay and perhaps one or two music tracks.

The graphics in Spider were very amazing when the game first came out. The main character looked like a real authentic spider on the television screen, which was both cool and a little scary at the same time (remember, arachnophobic!). The overall visual presentation is a little on the dark side in terms of mood and actual brightness. I remember having to turn my brightness up just to play.

After watching a few videos of Spider recently, I’ve also decided that the game’s graphics have stood the test of time exceptionally well, which is an amazing feat for a game released on the original Playstation back in 1996. The graphics are fine to look at today, and you really shouldn’t have any problems knowing what anything is that you see on your screen.

So while the music (for the most part) isn’t particularly great and the mood of the game isn’t very gripping or immersive, the actual gameplay is fantastic. I consider Spider to be a lost classic, and it may be one of the best platformers I ever played on the original Playstation. I highly recommend tracking this game down somehow and giving it a try if you’re into platformers.

Also, due to the lack of clear screenshots on the internet, I am posting a video I found instead.

Final Score

8.5/10

Final Fantasy VI (SNES, 1994)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

Most gamers these days tend to say that their favourite Final Fantasy is VII, which is cool. It was a well made game and Square really did a good job with it. There is one game in the series that gives VII a run for it’s money in terms of popularity with the fans however, and interestingly enough it is not one of the 3D installments. No, the game in question is the 16-bit 2D Final Fantasy VI.

The fact that a two dimensional installment in the series is in constant contention for “best of the entire series” says quite a lot about the game, I think. Obviously the graphics aren’t fully up to par anymore, so folks who held onto their dicks while playing the gorgeous Final Fantasy XIII are unlikely to be blown away by much in Final Fantasy VI. When the game was released however, the graphics were fairly pretty. Fortunately, the graphics were only a plus back in the day, a nice addition on top of an already stellar package.

So, if Final Fantasy VI does not get so much love for it’s visuals, then what has the series’ fans talking about the game even today? Turn your eyes to Final Fantasy VII, which unfortunately looks like ass by today’s standards. The character models were already kind of crumby when the game was first released for whatever reason, so it’s understandable that Final Fantasy VII’s visuals can almost induce vomiting these days. The game is ugly as hell, but it’s still loved for it’s story and characters. The exact same applies to Final Fantasy VI, and I’m going to explain why I feel that this game, my favourite in the series, has a leg up on it’s older and younger siblings.

Like most RPGs during the 16 bit era, Final Fantasy VI opening sequences hinted at a great war that took place hundreds of years ago. In this game’s case, it was the War of the Magi. This war was fought between Espers and Humans, and nearly destroyed the world. The war ended with the Humans exiling Espers to their own domain. The victory was not one sided however, as the Human civilization was set back hundreds of years, losing their technological advances and being forced to start over again. By the time the present day rolls around, it’s pretty clear that the dark ages are gone as the player gets a glimpse of Vector’s technologically impressive (and menacing) castle.

After the introduction sequence explains the war briefly, it ends after posing a “what if the war happens again?” sort of question before introducing a few playable characters. A girl and two Imperial soldiers (Biggs/Vicks and Wedge) appear over the town of Narshe where an Esper was recently found. This would be pretty big news considering the fact that Espers almost wiped out the Human race one thousand years ago.

So the player takes control of the three characters in their attack on Narshe as they attempt to capture the Esper. I can’t help but think that this was bad writing on Square’s part. In a real life situation, I’m sure that an Imperial Empire would send more than three people to capture a powerful creature. Perhaps an entire squad? It would have made more sense to do so since the two soldiers are killed off by the Esper, Tritoch. The girl survives and is revealed to be Terra, one of the game’s three main protagonists.

For the first several hours, the player spends their time learning about Terra, the Empire, the Returners, and much more. I won’t really go into the story too much since I assume that just about anyone reading this has either completed the game and doesn’t need a refresher, or is interested in playing the game and would probably prefer not to be spoiled. So, ignoring the story for the rest of this article, I think it’s time to talk about other aspects of the game.

The cast of characters is pretty staggering for a Final Fantasy. In fact, Final Fantasy VI has the largest character roster out of all the games. There is plenty of variety so most people will be able to enjoy their own little “favourite teams” so to speak. The joy of having so many characters is the development that you get out of several of them. Only a few characters receive little character development, which is alright. Some characters such as Terra, Locke, Celes, or Cyan have quite a lot of backstory that is a lot of fun to learn about. Cyan in particular is one character who my heart always goes out to, as he went through hell and back throughout the game. By the end of the game, he’s probably still going through his own personal hell that he keeps to himself and you really have to feel bad for the guy.

Opposite the playable characters is the game’s central antagonist, Kefka. I explained in my “top 5 Final Fantasy villains” why I think Kefka is the absolute best villain in the series, so I won’t rehash what I said there. You can check it out for yourself by going to the “top 5” submenu at the top of the page, just under the Review Depot banner. I praised Kefka for being so deliciously evil, and he does it all too well. Even Sephiroth would be jealous of Kefka’s antics. Throughout the course of the game, Kefka does so much evil that you truly do want to punish his sadistic ass, though you love the guy at the same time for being so off the wall and insane. Square really did a fantastic job of making a funny, goofy character so evil and despicable. They have never managed to make a villain quite like Kefka ever since, though they came close with Kuja.

The gameplay of Final Fantasy VI is fairly standard. There isn’t a lot to the game that raised the bar back in 1994, and the most complicated gameplay feature was the method used to learn new spells. The Esper system was a lot like a barebones Materia system in which characters learned new spells from Espers from gaining AP in battle. It wasn’t revolutionary, but it worked fairly well.

Aside from the characters, the aspect of Final Fantasy VI that still stands the test of time to me is the music. For a sixteen year old 16 bit RPG, this game sounds pretty awesome. The overworld map music (at the beginning and towards the end) is very compelling and engaging, and some character themes such as Celes’ saddening overture can very well almost bring a tear to your eyes – and it may very well do so at one point in the game. Kefka, considering how evil the man is, has one of the silliest themes I have ever heard, but it works so well for him. Figaro’s theme, the boss music, and even the entire Opera sequence sound brilliant, and Nobuo Uematsu really did an amazing job in this game. I cannot help but admire the music of Final Fantasy VI.

Everything I have mentioned comes together to make this my favourite game in the entire series, as well as one of my favourite games of all time. No Final Fantasy can truly compare to this one, except perhaps Final Fantasy VII.

If you have never played this 16 bit masterpiece, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on it one way or another.

The Decline of Need for Speed

The Need for Speed series has been respected and revered as one of the best arcade racing franchises ever developed. It has the numbers to back it up as well, as Need for Speed is the fifth best selling video game franchise of all time, behind only Mario, Pokemon, Tetris, and The Sims.

Despite achieving such success, the series has developed a bit of a bad reputation among reviewers and the general public alike over the past few years by repeatedly releasing games in the series which share very few common similarities except rushed development times and generally poor reviews.

Generally, the Need for Speed franchise is losing more steam as it continues to evolve into the unstoppable beast of the racing game genre, pumping out at least two games a year now. To reflect the decline in the games’ quality, here are the metascores for each Need for Speed game in chronological order, oldest to newest.

The Need for Speed – N/A (8.3 from Gamespot)
Need for Speed II – 71
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit – 88
Need for Speed: High Stakes – 86
Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed – 78
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II – 89
Need for Speed: Underground – 85
Need for Speed: Underground 2 – 82
Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 82
Need for Speed: Carbon – 74
Need for Speed: ProStreet – 62
Need for Speed: Undercover – 59
Need for Speed: Nitro – 68
Need for Speed: SHIFT – 84

With the exception of SHIFT’s success, the Need for Speed series has almost been in a steady decline since 2002. That is eight years of Need for Speed titles being consistently worse, barely even ranking above “average” since ProStreet in 2007.

Two more games in the Need for Speed franchise will be released this year. The first, due out next month, is Need for Speed World, a PC MMO. From what I understand, a beta began quite recently and the general consensus is that the game is unfortunately very bad. A low metascore is pretty much a sure thing with NFS World, unfortunately.

The second game coming this year may help get the staggering series back strongly on two feet (or four wheels?). Currently titled Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, it is the third game in the Hot Pursuit sub-series. The previous two Hot Pursuit titles scored 88 and 89 on Metacritic, the two highest scores that the series has received on the ranking and scoring website.

Electronic Arts is playing it smart with Hot Pursuit III. They know what works and what the core fans of the series enjoys most, and that’s the Hot Pursuit aspect of the franchise. While Carbon, ProStreet, Undercover and Nitro were interesting experiments, they can be considered failures due to being the lowest scoring games in the series since Need for Speed II, a thirteen year old game that hadn’t even found it’s footing or decided yet what it wanted to be.

Hot Pursuit III, ultimately, will be the game that decides whether or not Need for Speed will continue to be successful in the long term. NFS World will inevitably bomb judging by the comments by beta testers, and if Hot Pursuit III follows suit, then I’m afraid that Need for Speed’s time will almost be over.

If the new Hot Pursuit works out and happens to be a success, I truly hope that Electronic Arts will see the light and base all future Need for Speed games on the Hot Pursuit formula. After all, it has worked pretty darn well for the two games based around it.

To conclude the post, here are videos of Hot Pursuit, Hot Pursuit II, and what I assume will be named Hot Pursuit III. It’s quite cool to play them all at the same time and check out how the series has evolved in terms of gameplay and graphics.

Return to June 2010 Articles

Valkyrie Profile (Retro Review)

INFO: This review was written in the year 2000, therefore I was much younger when I wrote it. The quality of the writing is probably much lower. Don’t grimace too much when you read it, please!


“Enix has always been known for bringing us the goods from Japan and they’ve done it again.”

When I was first looking around for an RPG to buy a few months back, I wasn’t sure what to burn my money on. In my mind then, Valkyrie Profile was just another game sitting on the shelf with the fancy cover art. The third time I saw it for rental I thought, “That’s it. I’m gonna buy it.”

Let me tell you, if I had a choice to buy either Valkyrie Profile or something such as Star Ocean, I’d go with Valkyrie Profile. The graphics themselves, while 2D, are very sleek and attractive. Castles and buildings have a nice sense of realism to them, which adds a lot of depth to a game. The character sprites are all nice looking, with the standard ho-hum attack animations, but there is an exception here… Often you’ll get the opportunity to “purify weird soul.” When you do this, a character will often fly into an attacking frenzy that makes Omni Slash and Lionheart look like child’s play! Arngrim, who wields a large (and I mean large!) is able to final blast, which does mega damage when he has awesome weapons (we’re talking upwards of 50’000 damage). The monster sprites look very impressive as well, but some look a little… Strange… I was impressed greatly by the sprites of such monsters like the zombie dragon or the necrophiliac. Environments you run through are very detailed, every little piece of every wall seems unique.

The music in Valkyrie Profile can be somewhat catchy, but the game has some tracks you’d like to dismantle But for the most part the music fits the scene (notice how I said most!). Now the voices are really something unique. From Suo screaming “Admirable skill, but still no match for me!” to the Valkyrie herself yelling “Nibelung Valesti” when she prepares to assault the opponents. Certain bosses have voices as well, one being the gigantic Barbarossa. The problem with his voice though is that it is all raspy and horrible during combat. When in the field (or towns/dungeons characters often speak back and forth to each other. If you were to close your eyes when they do so, it seems as if you’re near an actual conversation. Very good job here, Tri-Ace.

The sound generates at least 5 points on the overall Sound/Music score, music grabbing a measly 2.5 points for the certain tracks that don’t go with the game (some sound like metal or something…)! The storyline in Valkyrie Profile isn’t incredible, it doesn’t make my jaw drop in awe… Hell, Final Fantasy VI’s spectacular story makes Valkyrie Profile’s dull story seem like a child’s short story or something. None the less, it has it’s good points, and I’m not going to give away any spoilers… As for replayability, you will NEVER have the same game twice. Remember that. There is a lot of innovation in this game… Too bad there weren’t any mini games, or we’d be looking at a game that would be at least 10 times more addictive! In the end, I was somewhat satisfied, but I wanted more. In my eyes, Valkyrie Profile 2 is not impossible.

Final Score

9/10